The Difference Between a Leader and a Boss

Being in charge of a team of people is a big responsibility. Doing right by them and leading them correctly is an even larger challenge. Just because someone is the boss, that doesn’t make them a leader. Simply, a boss expects work to be done correctly while a leader helps make work better. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are very significant differences between being a leader and being a boss.

While most people assume “leaders” and “bosses” might simply be two ways to describe people in managerial or supervisory positions, leaders can actually be colleagues, coworkers, or even subordinates. The difference between being a boss and being a leader is rooted in how they accomplish goals and treat others. Some leaders are also bosses, but not every boss is a true leader. Some bosses provide excellent leadership while others do not, while leaders are the ones striving to bring out the best in everyone around them regardless of their positions. Ideally, all bosses should strive to be effective leaders.

Leading From the Front

A boss stands aside and usually only intervenes with work when something goes wrong or if a problem demands attention. Conversely, leaders can often prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Leaders lead by example, not command. Rather than standing back and waiting for things to break, leaders involve themselves with the vital processes that lead to reaching end goals.

Bringing Out the Best in Others

Bosses often don’t bother with performance unless it affects them personally. An average or poor boss simply expects work to be done correctly and efficiently, but rarely provides the tools or guidance to enable this. Instead, bosses often take the form of disciplinarians – doling out punishments where necessary but rarely making moves to prevent missteps in the future.

A boss who is also an effective leader plays to his or her team’s strengths rather than simply taking the credit for their work. Good leaders should be able to effectively delegate, but they don’t completely rely on delegation to get things done. Leaders understand that team members are going to have varying strengths and weaknesses; an easy task for one person may be next to impossible for another. Leaders take these differences into consideration when delegating rather than simply assigning tasks and expecting them to be completed as directed.

Bosses are generally quick to dictate work and assign blame for failures, but rarely step up and provide direction for making sure failures don’t happen in the first place. In some cases, bosses get too invested in employees’ work, and micromanagement becomes an issue. Micromanaging is frustrating for employees – it inherently devalues them by sending the message they aren’t trusted to do things right. A good leader can balance between effective delegation and providing guidance when needed.

Boosting Morale

A poor boss can be a devastating blow to the morale of a team, department, or even a whole company. Bosses typically take credit for successes, but shift blame for failures. Over-delegation and poor oversight can lead to missteps, but leaders will be in the thick of it with the rest of the team and help make things work. When credit is due, a leader shares in successes with the team instead of gobbling up the recognition.

Additionally, bosses who don’t empower their subordinates to do their best work are going to hurt morale over time. A boss who consistently expects the impossible, does not address weaknesses in a team thoughtfully, or shifts blame to subordinates, will only drive the team apart and garner resentment. Leaders, on the other hand, will take their fair share of responsibility in the face of defeat and help others figure out where they went wrong. Remember, this type of leader doesn’t necessarily need to be a boss to have a positive effect on a team.

Teamwork vs. Competition

Bosses typically encourage competition over teamwork. Some bosses believe that competition naturally incentivizes employees to do their best work, but this often creates unnecessary stress. Additionally, when team members or coworkers feel as though they must compete with one another, this mentality stifles potential collaboration and innovation. Leaders, on the other hand, don’t hang the threat of punishment over others to encourage good work. Instead, leaders get personally invested in group efforts to help generate the best results possible.

Fear vs. Respect

Competition and teamwork will also invariably affect how subordinates see their superiors. While bosses typically inspire fear, good leaders earn respect. Again, bosses can be leaders, but leaders don’t have to be bosses. Ultimately, the biggest difference between a boss and a leader is the ability to bring out the best in others.

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